How I wrote One Direction’s ‘Little Things’ by Fiona Bevan
The Suffolk-born singer-songwriter explains how she and Ed Sheeran made the little song that gave 1D another UK No 1
Much like her contemporaries Ed Sheeran, Nick Mulvey and Jamie Lawson, the Suffolk-born singer-songwriter Fiona Bevan was determined to make her name as an independent artist, performing her original music herself. But it was as a collaborator and behind-the-scenes topliner that has led Fiona to become a multi-platinum selling songwriter.
She has written with the likes of Ryan Tedder and Shawn Mendes, 5 Seconds Of Summer, Lights, Guy Sebastian and Stefflon Don, had songs recorded by Dinah Jane and Rita Ora, and even penned the Steps comeback single Scared Of The Dark that soared straight to the top of the UK iTunes chart. However, all this can be traced back to One Direction’s hit single Little Things she co-wrote with Ed Sheeran, which reached No 1 in 13 countries and earned them a BMI Award.
Here, Fiona explains how she met Ed and made the little song that effectively launched her career…
“I’ve known Ed [Sheeran] since he was 16 years old because his second ever gig in London was with me. We were all friends in a little gang of singer-songwriters and we did loads and loads of gigs all the time around London together, and slightly further afield as well like Norwich and Brighton. It was a lovely friendship group, really, and we all knew each other from these open mic nights and gigs that we’d do. It was people like Nick Mulvey, Samantha Wake who’s a gorgeous singer-songwriter whose new band Beaker Beaker has just been signed to Rough Trade, there was another singer-songwriter called Camber Bell, and Jamie Lawson who Ed has now signed, and there was Jamie Woon… so it was a really good time. There was this sense of supportiveness and encouragement amongst everybody, and to be surrounded by great talent like that spurs you on to try harder, learn and be better – it was a good learning experience, the whole thing.
“So when Ed started taking off, I was starting to do a bit more co-writing and I texted him one day, to see if he wanted to write a song. And he basically said yes and came round one afternoon. I was living in a flat in Dalston at the time, and he came round and we had cups of tea, had lunch, chatted and hung out.
“I had this idea where I wanted to write a song about all these ‘little things’ and every little thing actually had such a huge meaning. So that was my idea for the song, he really loved it, and so that was how we wrote Little Things. We wrote everything together – all the lyrics, all the melodies, all the chords – so it was a true 50-50 co-write in every respect. He was on guitar and I was on piano, and we were both singing. It was like doing a duet all day! By the time he left, it was fully formed. It wasn’t even really a whole day, I think it did come quite quickly.
“At one point during the writing process, all the chords were quite major and there wasn’t so much depth and darkness in it, and I really wanted to take the chorus to those darker more minor chords. I don’t think Ed was that sure about it, so I sort of had to fight for it and prove that it worked, and I’m really glad I did because I think it made it deeper and less just happy and light – it feels really emotional and real.
“Also we changed the last chorus so that whoever is singing the song has found they’ve just told someone everything. The whole song is like they’re trying not to let these things about them out, and then it’s like, ‘I’ve just let these little things slip out…’ I think when we hit on that idea, we both liked the fact that one little tweak of the last chorus changed the whole meaning, and that meant a lot to both of us.
“I kind of wrote it for him, but then actually it was too late in the process of his first album, and also it was a bit too ballad-y – he had a lot of ballads already. So I wrote all the lyrics out on a really big piece of paper and we demo’d it on a phone, because I didn’t even own any mics at that point. And then he went off into the sunset and had his phone stolen! So we lost the demo and thought we’d lost the song. Then about a year later, I started thinking, ‘I wonder about that little song, I wonder if we should do something with it and pitch it to another artist or something,’ and I texted Ed saying, ‘Do you remember that song we wrote?’ I’d found the 41 lyrics in my bedroom, so I sent them to him and he was like, ‘Oh year, I remember how this goes.’ He demoed it up on an iPad on the tour bus and then he met One Direction backstage at the Olympics’ opening ceremony, I think, because that’s when they were both playing together. So he became friends with them and the guys were like, ‘Send us some songs,’ and I think he pitched them about 10 songs and the one they liked the best was ours.
“That was the first thing we wrote together and it was actually my first cut – my first song that came out by another artist. So that went on their album, but the day it came out everyone sort of cherry-picked it and it went straight to No 1 in about 13 countries. It was the most extraordinary day of my life. It was an incredible moment and that was when I stopped doing my day job, managed to get a publishing deal and started being a full-time songwriter, so I’ve never looked back.”